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Fence Builders (From CHECKBOOK, Fall 2013/Winter 2014)
 
Go to Ratings of 25 Washington Area Fence Builders

Introduction

Fence Builders

A good fence can mark boundaries, confine pets, exclude unwanted visitors, and add architectural flair; some fences need to do all of the above. A good fence-building outfit can help you choose the right design and materials for your purposes, and follow through with excellent work that will last. We’ve found some fencing outfits in the area that were highly rated by their customers—and some others that were rated quite poorly. We also found huge company-to-company price differences. 

Getting Started 

Begin by reviewing and deciding on fence type, materials, finish, height, spacing and width of slats, and post size. Also decide whether you want extras such as latticework or an electronic gate. Most fence builders provide catalogs you can examine. Questions to consider: 

  • What is the purpose of the fence? To keep pets in? To safeguard children? For privacy or security? Is it for a windbreak, for sound insulation, to block light? Different types of fencing have different qualities: A chain-link fence is extremely functional and cheap, but not pleasing to the eye. A privacy fence may provide some sound buffering but block sunlight. 
  • How much money are you willing to spend? You can pay roughly $8 to $15 per running foot for chain-link fencing, more than $25 per foot for most types of privacy fencing, and more than $40 per foot for decorative metal fencing. 
  • How long do you want your fence to last? How much effort are you willing to put into its upkeep? Brick and stone walls are virtually indestructible, while picket fences need periodic repairs. A decorative metal fence may have to be repainted often to prevent rust. Living hedges require attention, just as gardens do. You’ll pay more for cedar or redwood than for pressure-treated or untreated lumber, but it may last longer and require less care. 
  • Does your design need to blend in with its surroundings, including other structures? 
  • Are there trees or shrubs in the path of the future fence that you don’t want cut down? Fence contractors can suggest options to accommodate such obstacles. 
  • How high does the fence need to be? 
  • Where will the gates be placed? Keep in mind the location of your garage, utility meters, and storage areas for trash cans. 
  • Do you want a deck, tool shed, gazebo, or other features built to match the fencing design? Will you be adding on to your home, digging a swimming pool, or doing other future work that will require removing a section of fencing either for the structure itself or to allow heavy equipment access? 
  • If you are sharing the costs of the fencing job with a neighbor, what is a fair way to share, and will you need help with drawing up the contract? 

Make sure the company you choose is aware of any community building code restrictions on your property. Every community has its own rules. For example, some require posts to be sunk below a certain level, or that fencing be located within a set distance of your property lines and set back a certain distance from streets or sidewalks. Also, some communities allow only certain types of fencing, and limit the height of fences and walls. Almost all communities mandate some type of minimum fencing around swimming pools. 

Getting Great Work 

Our Ratings Tables report ratings on area fence building companies. The ratings on companies’ service quality come from our surveys of area consumers (primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers). We asked survey recipients to rate companies they had used “inferior,” “adequate,” or “superior” for several questions, including: “doing work properly on the first try,” “starting and completing work promptly,” “advice on service options and costs,” and “overall performance.” Our Ratings Tables report the percent of surveyed customers who rated each company “superior” (as opposed to “inferior” or “adequate”) on each question. The table also reports the percent of each company’s surveyed customers who rated it “adequate” or “superior” (as opposed to “inferior”) for “overall performance.” (Click here for more information on our customer survey and other data.) 

As you can see, some companies received high accolades, but some others were rated “inferior” (less than “adequate”) for “overall performance” by 25 percent or more of their surveyed customers. Based on the comments we received from raters, most of the negative ratings related to poor workmanship, lousy customer service and communication, and taking too long to complete the work. 

In addition to ratings from customers, for firms that were evaluated in our last full, published article, our Ratings Tables show counts of complaints we gathered from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for a recent three-year period, the number of complaints on file with local government consumer protection offices for a recent two-year period, and complaint rates relative to the volume of work companies do. For more information on reported complaint counts and rates, click here

When contracting with a fence building company, get everything in writing: exact specifications for what is to be built, a drawing specifying where it will be built, a description of the materials to be used, and a fixed price. To maintain your leverage to ensure work is completed as agreed and satisfactorily, ask for a payment schedule that allows you to withhold as much payment as possible until the work is complete—a 10 percent deposit is reasonable. 

Also take proper steps to identify and avoid underground utility lines. Before any digging begins, get the proper authorities to locate and mark the location of underground lines. If a fencing company tells you this step is unnecessary, call 811 to confirm. 

Getting a Good Price 

Our Ratings Tables report CHECKBOOK’s price comparison score for each company that was evaluated in our last full, published article. The scores are based on quotes CHECKBOOK’s shoppers got from the companies for three different types of fencing work. Adjusted so that the average for all surveyed companies equals $100, the scores indicate how each company’s prices, on average, compared to the average prices for all companies quoting on the same jobs. Thus a score of $110 means a company’s prices averaged 10 percent above the all-company average. The price comparison scores can steer you to good candidates for reasonably priced work. 

Table 1—Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Companies for Illustrative Fencing Jobs

Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Companies for Illustrative Fencing Jobs
JobLow priceAverage priceHigh price
Price per running foot for four-foot-high, standard, smooth-edge chain-link fencing $7.70 $11.96 $16.00
Price per running foot for four-foot-high picket fence made with western red cedar $12.02 $16.99 $24.00
Price per running foot for six-foot-high privacy fence made with western red cedar $18.32 $24.69 $31.50

Although we have been able to obtain firm quotes by phone for specific, very straightforward fencing jobs, you will probably want builders to come to your home to provide estimates. Our shoppers collected quotes from builders for yards that were flat, had no existing fences, and had no vegetation or potential obstructions in the path of a fence. Our prices were also per running foot, not including a gate or other specialized work. Chances are your job will have more special features. 

The key to getting a good price is to get several bids. The time you spend getting two or three bids is likely to pay off generously. Your second bid may be higher than the first, but it will just as often be lower. 

You can also save a lot, of course, by splitting the costs of a fencing job with neighbors. 



Go to Ratings of 25 Washington Area Fence Builders Back to top